Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Maurice Brown (1917–1980)

by Owen Parnaby

This article was published:

Maurice Brown (1917-1980), administrator, was born on 19 August 1917 in Hobart, second son of Rev. Jeffrey Brown, a Congregational minister, and his wife Elizabeth Maud, née Duffield. Educated at Melbourne High School and the University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1937), Maurice was admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 1 March 1939. At the Independent Church, Kew, on 7 September 1940 he married a schoolteacher Margaret Agatha Stuckey.

In 1939 Brown had joined the administrative staff of the University of Melbourne; he worked under the registrar J. F. Foster, from whom he learned the craft, and with whom he developed a lifelong friendship. Brown rose to be deputy-registrar and academic secretary before moving in 1950 to the new Australian National University, Canberra, as assistant-registrar. In 1954 he was appointed registrar of the University of Malaya, Singapore, but resigned after three years rather than face the growing hostility to foreigners.

Among those whom Brown consulted about his future was Sir Douglas Copland, principal of the Australian Administrative Staff College, who invited Brown to join him as registrar when the college opened in 1957 at Mount Eliza, Victoria. Brown also participated in the course-work as a syndicate leader, and through his classes in writing and speaking which he published as Getting Across (1971).

In 1964 he succeeded Sir Ragnar Garrett as the college's principal. Six feet (183 cm) tall, good looking and a fashionable dresser, Brown was enthusiastic and jovial, an amusing conversationalist, a bon viveur and a convivial host who delighted in the opportunity to get to know the future business leaders of Australia. In his leisure time he was an apiarist and hobby farmer. He resigned from the college in 1971 and, with his wife, fulfilled an abiding ambition to motor overland to Britain; he recorded this adventure in A Plague of Peacocks (1972).

On his return Brown practised as a private consultant, using to advantage the contacts he had made in his years at the college. Having resumed his association with the University of Melbourne in 1967 as a member of council, he was deputy-chancellor (1973-78) and executive-member (1974-75) of the Australian Universities' Commission's committee on the open university. He also chaired the Victorian government's committee of inquiry into child care.

Brown's most challenging task came as chairman (1978) of the Victorian Public Service Board, on which he had served as government nominee from 1975. The (Sir Henry) Bland committee of inquiry into the Victorian Public Service (1974-75) had criticized the board for its insensitivity to the needs of the service and for its acceptance of the status quo. Brown brought to the office of chairman qualities uncommon among his predecessors: experience in management, imagination, flexibility and a genial persuasiveness. The implementation of the Bland recommendations had just begun when Brown died of a subarachnoid haemorrhage on 13 February 1980 while visiting Wellington, New Zealand. Survived by his wife, daughter and three sons, he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Board of Inquiry into the Victorian Public Service, Reports, Parliamentary Papers (Victoria), 1974-76, 7 (9), p 181, (34), p 371, (47), p 429
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Mar 1980, p 15
  • Victorian Public Board, Annual Report, 1978-80
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 Feb 1980
  • private information.

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Citation details

Owen Parnaby, 'Brown, Maurice (1917–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 August, 1917
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


13 February, 1980 (aged 62)
Wellington, New Zealand

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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